By Nick Cooper
Photo by Richard Kaby
Gilad Atzmon is scheduled to perform jazz and speak about Israel September 17th at the Unitarian Fellowship of Houston (1504 Wirt Road). He is an outspoken critic of Israel, but in his writing and speaking, he makes frequent prejudicial errors and distortions. When called out for them, he won’t accept correction. He is a bad spokesperson for the anti Israeli-Apartheid movement (and all peace and justice movements), because he has continually misled his audiences about crucial issues. Though he is frequently labeled by others as ‘racist,’ whether or not that is true, his words are too often defamatory, inaccurate, and self-aggrandizing. While we organize against Israeli apartheid, we must avoid such problematic spokespeople.
Here are some of the reasons so many have renounced him as an ally:
Insulting and Smearing Respected Palestinian Voices
Gilad said of Ali Abunimah, who co-founded Electronic Intifada:
“Ali Abunimah… is just dishonest/stupid. Abunimah calls Israelis Zionists because he needs the so called Jewish ‘anti’ Zionists to support his operation. The last time i communicated with Ali Abunimah he wrote to me, ‘Just refer to Zionism instead of Jewish identity and everything would be fine’. He basically asked me to lie.. I obviously refused…”
Gilad fabricated the quote he attributed to Abunimah.
Factual Errors / Smears
“If you are a Gentile (non-Jew), you can not really join a Jewish anti-Zionist cell, because you are not racially qualified.”
This is factually wrong — both groups have non-Jewish members. When I called him out for his error, Gilad responded,
“You are just not intelligent enough to grasp the argument.”
Repeating this smear to the public alienates his fans from working with these important organizations, and that is a problem.
Inability To Concede Errors
Gilad told the world on the BBC,
“No one until now said that I got my facts wrong, that I misquoted anyone, nobody until now. There is not a single critical voice who said Gilad is wrong about something.”
This type of egotism makes it impossible for Gilad to be accountable to the public that reacts to his writings and speeches. Gilad is dismissive of constructive feedback and insulting.
Gilad sees Jewish exclusivity everywhere, calling even anti-Zionist Jews a “racially oriented exclusivist culture driven by chosenness,” and concludes they are unable to “move beyond the Talmudic phase.” (ie. don’t interact enough with non-Jews). Anti-Zionist Jews often have non-Jewish partners, are committed to working in diverse movements, and clearly denounce the idea of ‘chosenness.’ Claiming that racial exclusivity is found in all Jewish groups is defamatory nonsense. Instead of encouraging Jewish allies to join the movement for justice in Palestine, this type of distortion pushes them away.
Gilad objects to the term ‘Israeli Apartheid,’ because he feels that Israel’s system is worse than apartheid. The word “apartheid” is used by BDS activists and others who seek justice in Palestine, and accurately describes Israel regardless of degree. Just like Zionists create Holocaust exceptionalism (denying that the Holocaust is one of many genocides), Gilad seems to create the opposite type of exceptionalism, in which Israel’s war crimes are unlike anything else that has ever occurred anywhere. Gilad does not see Zionism as fitting into white supremacy, but rather as an unprecedented evil. It’s true that there are unique and greatly threatening aspects of the Israeli state, but Gilad dismisses all the clear similarities to white supremacy and Christian imperialism.
Gilad compared the Israeli attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla to the killing of Jesus. He also said,
“American Jewry makes any debate on whether the ‘Protocols of the elder of Zion’ are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews do try to control the world, by proxy… I would suggest that perhaps we should face it once and for all: the Jews were responsible for the killing of Jesus who, by the way, was himself a Palestinian Jew.”
Gilad carelessly or intentionally adopts racist language. Invoking the ‘Christ-killer’ slur invokes past centuries of anti-Jewish racism and violence in Europe and the US.
Praise for Famous Racist
Atzmon praised the white nationalist and KKK Grand Wizard David Duke,
“I read him and I was shocked to find out that this guy knows more about Jewish identity than I do! … David Duke is a humanist because he says, ‘I want to celebrate my right and you should celebrate your rights’ whether you are Muslim or black or whatever. He believes that all people should celebrate their rights, this is his current philosophy.”
How Many Respected Allies Have Broken with Gilad?
The following educators, writers, activists, and leaders have renounced working with Atzmon:
Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada; As’ad AbuKhalil, Angry Arab Blog; Massoud Nayeri, Houston independent peace activist; Naseer Aruri, Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth; Omar Barghouti, founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel; Hatem Bazian, Chair, American Muslims for Palestine; Andrew Dalack, National Coordinating Committee, US Palestinian Community Network; Haidar Eid, Gaza; Nada Elia, US Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel; Toufic Haddad; Kathryn Hamoudah; Adam Hanieh, Lecturer, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London; Mostafa Henaway, Tadamon! Canada; Naseer Aruri, Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth; Monadel Herzallah, National Coordinating Committee, US Palestinian Community Network; Nadia Hijab, author and human rights advocate; Andrew Kadi; Abir Kobty, Palestinian blogger and activist; Joseph Massad, Professor, Columbia University, NY; Danya Mustafa, Israeli Apartheid Week US National Co-Coordinator & Students for Justice in Palestine- University of New Mexico; Dina Omar, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine; Haitham Salawdeh, National Coordinating Committee, US Palestinian Community Network; Sobhi Samour, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London; Khaled Ziada, SOAS Palestine Society, London; Rafeef Ziadah, poet and human rights advocate; Suha Afyouni, solidarity activist, Beirut, LEBANON; Max Ajl, Jewbonics blog site, Ithaca, NY; Haifaa Al-Moammar, activist, Los Angeles, CA; Electa Arenal, professor emerita, CUNY Graduate Center/Hispanic & Luso-Brazilian Literatures and Women’s Studies, New York, NY; Gabriel Ash, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Geneva, SWITZERLAND; Joel Beinin, Donald J. McLachlan, Professor of History, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA; Dan Berger, Wild Poppies Collective, Philadelphia, PA; Chip Berlet, Boston, MA; Nazila Bettache, activist, Montréal, CANADA; Sam Bick, Tadamon!, Immigrant Workers Center, Montréal, Québec; Max Blumenthal, author; writing fellow, The Nation, New York, NY; Lenni Brenner, author, Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, New York, NY; Café Intifada; Paola Canarutto, Rete-ECO (Italian Network of Jews against the Occupation), Torino, ITALY; Paulette d’Auteuil, National Jericho Movement, Albuquerque, NM; Susie Day, Monthly Review, New York, NY; Ali Hocine Dimerdji, PhD student at The University of Nottingham, in Nottingham, UK; Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, professor emerita, California State University; Todd Eaton, Park Slope Food Coop Members for Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions, Brooklyn, NY; Mark Elf, Jews sans frontieres; S. EtShalom, registered nurse, Philadelphia, PA; Benjamin Evans, solidarity activist, Chicago, IL; First of May Anarchist Alliance; Sherna Berger Gluck, professor emerita, California State University/Israel Divestment Campaign, CA; Neta Golan, International Solidarity Movement; Tony Greenstein, Secretary Brighton Unemployed Centre/UNISON, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, Brighton, UK; Andrew Griggs, Café Intifada, Los Angeles, CA; Jenny Grossbard, artist, designer, writer and fighter, New York, NY; Freda Guttman, activist, Montréal, CANADA; Swaneagle Harijan, anti-racism, social justice activism, Seattle, WA; Sarah Hawas, researcher and solidarity activist, Cairo, EGYPT; Stanley Heller, “The Struggle” Video News, moderator “Jews Who Speak Out”; Elise Hendrick, Meldungen aus dem Exil/Noticias de una multipátrida, Cincinnati, OH; Doug Henwood, Left Business Observer, New York, NY; Ken Hiebert, activist, Ladysmith, CANADA; Elizabeth Horowitz, solidarity activist, New York, NY; Adam Hudson, writer/blogger, San Francisco Bay Area, CA; Dhruv Jain, Researcher at the Jan Van Eyck Academie and PhD student at York University, Paris, FRANCE; Tom Keefer, an editor of the journal Upping the Anti, Toronto, CANADA; Karl Kersplebedeb, Left Wing Books, Montréal, CANADA; Anne Key, Penrith, Cumbria, UK; Mark Klein, activist, Toronto, CANADA; Bill Koehnlein, Brecht Forum, New York, NY; L.A. Palestine Labor Solidarity Committee, Los Angeles, CA; Mark Lance, Georgetown University/Institute for Anarchist Studies, Washington, DC; David Landy, author, Jewish Identity and Palestinian Rights: Diaspora Jewish Opposition to Israel, Dublin, IRELAND; Bob Lederer, Pacifica/WBAI producer, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, New York, NY; Matthew Lyons, Three Way Fight, Philadelphia, PA; Karen MacRae, solidarity activist, Toronto, CANADA; Heba Farouk Mahfouz, student activist, blogger, Cairo, EGYPT; Marvin Mandell and Betty Reid Mandell, co-editors, New Politics, West Roxbury, MA; Ruth Sarah Berman McConnell, retired teacher, DeLand, FL; Kathleen McLeod, poet, Brisbane, Australia; Karrie Melendres, Los Angeles, CA; Matt Meyer, Resistance in Brooklyn, New York, NY; Amirah Mizrahi, poet and educator, New York, NY; Mesha Monge-Irizarry, co-director of Education Not Incarceration; SF MOOC City commissioner, San Francisco, CA; Matthew Morgan-Brown, solidarity activist, Ottawa, CANADA; Michael Novick, People Against Racist Terror/Anti-Racist Action, Los Angeles, CA; Saffo Papantonopoulou, New School Students for Justice in Palestine, New York, NY; Susan Pashkoff, Jews Against Zionism, London, UK; Tom Pessah, UC Berkeley Students for Justice in Palestine, Berkeley, CA; Marie-Claire Picher, Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory (TOPLAB), New York, NY; Sylvia Posadas (Jinjirrie), Kadaitcha, Noosa, AUSTRALIA; Roland Rance, Jews Against Zionism, London, UK; Danielle Ratcliff, San Francisco, CA; Liz Roberts, War Resisters League, New York, NY; Emma Rosenthal, contributor, Shifting Sands: Jewish Women Confront the Israeli Occupation, Los Angeles, CA; Penny Rosenwasser, PhD, Oakland, CA; Suzanne Ross, Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, The Riverside Church Prison Ministry, New York, NY; Gabriel San Roman, Orange County Weekly, Orange County, CA; Ian Saville, performer and lecturer, London, UK; Joel Schwartz, CSEA retiree/AFSCME, New York, NY; Tali Shapiro, Anarchists Against the Wall, Boycott From Within, Tel Aviv, OCCUPIED PALESTINE; Simona Sharoni, SUNY, author, Gender & the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Plattsburgh, NY; Jaggi Singh, No One Is Illegal-Montreal/Solidarity Across Borders, Montréal, CANADA; Michael S. Smith, board member, Center for Constitutional Rights, New York, NY; Pierre Stambul, Union juive française pour la paix (French Jewish Union for Peace), Paris, FRANCE; Muffy Sunde, Los Angeles, CA; Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of Jacobin, Bronx, NY; Tadamon!, Montréal, CANADA; Ian Trujillo, atheist, Los Angeles, CA; Gabriella Turek, PhD, Auckland, NEW ZEALAND; Henry Walton, SEIU, retired, Los Angeles, CA; Bill Weinberg, New Jewish Resistance, New York, NY; Abraham Weizfeld, author, The End of Zionism and the liberation of the Jewish People, Montreal, CANADA; Ben White, author, Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination, and Democracy, Cambridge, UK; Laura Whitehorn, former political prisoner, NYS Task Force on Political Prisoners, New York, NY; Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, founding member, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-BIG); Asa Winstanley, journalist for Electronic Intifada; Ziyaad Yousef, solidarity activist.
author’s note: Several years ago, I collaborated with Gilad Atzmon on the Klezmer Musicians Against the Wall Compilation CD